London: Britain`s traditional pubs are hoping a new law will galvanise the country`s budding beer renaissance and save them from a steep crisis that is forcing dozens of premises to close every week.
Cut-price competition from supermarkets, the smoking ban and healthier drinking habits have all fuelled the decline of an institution as traditionally British as football and fish-and-chips.
"Pubs are currently under threat as never before," the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), a pressure group, bemoaned in a statement earlier this year, revealing that 29 pubs were being forced to close every week.
Although many town centres remain hotbeds of rowdy drinkers come Friday and Saturday nights, official figures show that alcohol consumption has fallen around 18 percent since 2004 and that binge-drinking has declined more than 30 percent among young people.
But pubs trying to adapt to changing habits, including the popularity of craft beers from drinkers who now prefer the quality of their tipple to quantity, face a major stumbling block.
Around half them are currently "tied" to Pub Companies -- a version of a centuries-old system dominated by the biggest brewer companies that has historically dictated which beers pubs can sell.Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association that represents the giant "PubCos", told AFP that the "tied" system helps provide a low-cost way to own a pub and keep prices low.
But campaigners have dismissed these claims, and scored a historic victory in the final days of the last parliament when a law was passed to end the tie system once and for all.
Campaigner Simon Clarke, co-landlord of The Eagle Ale House in south London, said the law change would widen the choice and cut costs for publicans no longer forced to buy through the PubCos.
He praised campaigners who fought a seven-year battle against the lobbying power of the pub industry.
"This is largely due to the... strength of people who have lost their pubs and stayed with it. They begrudge what`s happened to them and could have walked away, but they stuck with it," he told AFP.Small-scale brewers have already been capitalising on the shifting tastes, with applications to start breweries tripling in the past five years.
Fresh-faced young entrepreneurs are now snapping up disused railway arches in the hip London district of Bermondsey, turning them into state-of-the-art factories full of gleaming vats, valves and pipes.
A recent addition to the "Bermondsey Beer Mile" is UBrew, which offers all levels of brewers the chance to make their own beer using shared equipment.
Co-founder Wilf Horsfall said UBrew was tapping into the demand for well-crafted beer using local ingredients wherever possible.
"Twenty years ago London had a terrible reputation for food, whereas now we are one of the most exciting places to eat in Europe and I think that`s happening with beer too," he said.
"Generally speaking people are drinking for pleasure much more than inebriation. The alcohol content is part of the enjoyment of it, but it`s not the be all and end all."
"We are watching the winification of beer. In the same way that people for a long time have talked about grape varieties and regional differences, that`s now happening with beer."
Beer writer and CAMRA member Roger Protz said that the movement was partly a reaction against multinational brewers.
"For too long people have been drinking industrial beers brewed by global brewers, which are brewed only for profit," he explained over a pint.
"People are now looking for one thing and one thing alone and that is taste."